Reeva and Oscar: a mythological perspective from JungAnja van Kralingen
This post is an application of Jungian theory to offer an alternative way of understanding the tragic event of Reeva Steenkamp’s death at the hands of Oscar Pistorius. It is a continuation of the post A bullet in the chamber: a Jungian perspective on a murderous gun complex
Reeva painted these pictures when she was 14, they’ve been in the house for a long time now, but we never really realized what they were about. here is a man standing in a field, next to a tree, and he is holding a gun. and then on the other side… is what could be reeva wearing angel wings, and here is the ladder going up to heaven. and we never really, really understood the painting but it almost seems like a premonition. and it is, if you look at it, it’s a premonition of what happened to her. and she’s petrified. she’s afraid. she’s showing horror and she’s afraid. she’s terrified. her hands are over her mouth, and she’s terrified. if you look at it now it’s clear as anything that this is a premonition”.
These pictures and the interpretation from Reeva’s mom, June Steenkamp, are interesting from the perspective of Applied Jungian Studies. The pictures show a dark figure, a man, holding what could be a gun. June Steenkamp interprets it as being a gun, one doesn’t know whether or not this interpretation was given by Reeva at the time of the drawing to June, or if possibly viewed close up the image is clearer. What is clear is that he is holding protruding rifle-like-object in his hands. He is pointing it at the young woman in the picture. The young girl has wings, like an angel, and behind her is a ladder that appears to be going up to heaven.
Does June’s interpretation of this being a premonition seems reasonable? I think it is certainly understandable. Reeva draws this at the age of 14: a strange dark man with a “gun” pointing at a young girl who has angel wings and is about to ascend to heaven! As a (completely meaningless) coincidence one would be obliged to remark that is quite extraordinary.
Jung offers a way of illuminating, if not complete understanding, of what may be going on here. Jung suggests that the unconscious psyche is a non localised phenomenon; it is not constrained by space and time in the same way that consciousness is. Understanding this, Reeva’s art, as a teenager, anticipating an event that was many years off in the conscious and causal timeline and expressing unconscious and non local knowledge, makes sense. There are three concepts from Jung that speak specifically to this issue: childhood dreams, archetypal theory, and synchronicity, which I unpack briefly below.
The other key idea Jung gives us is that our individual life paths are expressions of mythological motifs (myths). And like all myths one is living in the structure of the mythological narrative from conception. Myths do not start at the point of high drama, the denouement, but long before. If we accept this idea then Reeva, like all of us, had an unconscious intimation of the myth of her life. In the case of Reeva and Oscar this mythological dimension is quite apparent; the story is of course a modern myth.
A beautiful young woman (mythologically the maiden) pure of heart, who grows up in very humble, circumstances, but loved by all, makes her way to the big city to find her fortune, and naturally her prince. There she meets her prince, a man who epitomises the heroic and the masculine ideal and wins her hand, but behind closed doors, out of the public eye, his heroic public character is complimented by a demonic dimension that threatens to break free and wrest control of the prince. The beautiful maiden is equally attracted to and terrified of her prince who she both loves and fears. Their brief but passionate relationship exists in a state of high tension between their conscious love and darker undercurrents that always threaten to overwhelm them. And of course in this case the demonic, the darkness, triumphs over the light, much more in line with Grimm’s fables or ancient Greek mythology than the Disneyfied modern mythology of children’s movies where it is always light that triumphs over dark.
The three key concepts from Jung that bear on this are:
1. That childhood dreams frequently (maybe even typically) speak of the life path of the person that has yet to unfold.
Although dreams in which these mythological parallels appear are not uncommon, the emergence of the collective unconscious, as I have called this myth-like layer, is an unusual event which only takes place under special conditions. It appears in the dreams dreamt at important junctures in life. The earliest dreams of childhood, if we can still remember them, often contain the most astonishing mythologems; we also find the primordial images in poetry and in art generally.
2. Archetypes and archetypal patterns. The archetype is a transpersonal universal form that exists not only in an individual’s psychology but also in the world. Archetypal patterns are like universal myths that are lived out in individual lives.
“The stars of thine own fate lie in thy breast”
This deeper layer I call the collective unconscious…this part of the unconscious is not individual but universal; in contrast to the personal psyche, it has contents and modes of behaviour that are more or less the same everywhere and in all individuals…[it] constitutes a common psychic substrate of a suprapersonal nature which is present in every one of us. 
The archetypes are formal factors responsible for the organisation of unconscious psychic process: they are “patterns of behaviour”.
3. His concept of synchronicity the connection of events through meaning rather than causality. That we frequently encounter events that live in both the inner world and the outer world and share a meaningful acausal connection. This is the idea of premonitions, pre cognitive dreams, discussing or thinking someone and then they call, arrive, or email you etc.
The problem of synchronicity has puzzled me for a long time…when I was investigating the phenomenon of the collective unconscious and kept on coming across connections which I could not explain as chance groupings or “runs”. What I found were “coincidences” which were connected so meaningfully that their “chance” occurrence would have to expressed by an astronomical figure [i.e the figure of improbability was astronomically high].
Connecting these ideas suggests that Reeva at the time of drawing the images (14 years old) was unconsciously aware of the archetypal myth of her life. Her expression of this myth in her drawings is analogous to the content of a dream. It is a well established fact in psychotherapy, and specifically in art therapy, that drawing is a reliable method for accessing unconscious content. And synchronistically the image in the drawing, representing an archetypal or mythological pattern to be lived out in Reeva’s adult life, occurs in the world. Tragically Reeva is shot and ascends to “heaven”.
Reeva’s flame burnt very brightly, brighter than the vast majority of her peers. And I’m given to wonder if an unconscious knowledge such as would be present if we accept the hypothesis, would not push her to try more, reach further, push harder and extend herself beyond where others would, who did not share her sense of unconscious urgency.
It is obviously challenging to read a meaning out of this type of analysis. I personally find the Jungian analysis persuasive, but clearly those who are unable or unwilling to see connections in the world beyond the causal will struggle with it. Accepting this as a possible hypothesis though what can be said?
“I’m scared of you sometimes and how you snap at me and of how you will react to me,”
It seems based on some of the sms’ shared by the prosecution in court that Reeva was afraid of Oscar Pistorius. Now admittedly this is one amongst many, many sms between the two, but still one may reasonably wonder why such an attractive and obviously popular woman like Reeva would stay in a relationship, a very young relationship (they had been together for about three months) with someone who frightened her?
Psychoanalysis offers an answer to this seemingly counterintuitive behaviour, it has a definite purpose. The purpose of trying to come to terms with, to bring into consciousness, unconscious content. So if we allow the hypothesis that unconsciously this content – the dark man, the man with a gun who shoots the girl, was already present in Reeva’s psychology from the time she drew the pictures, then her unconscious attempt to come to terms with this “man” in the world makes sense. It makes sense not in terms of a best practice type of rationale – which it very clearly was not, but psychologically it does make sense. Unconscious content will seek expression in the world, all the more so when the subject is unable to come to terms with it in her inner world. I realise that this idea may be a little opaque to the non-psychoanalyst. Let me spell it out, what I am suggesting is something along the following lines:
Reeva constellated in her unconscious at the time of the drawings an archetypal (mythological) story or in psychoanalytic terms an archetypal pattern. The archetypal myth was evident in her drawings an image of being shot by a violent dark man and ascending to heaven, and in a sense being beautified in the process. If we accept Jung’s concepts of the archetypes transcending the personal and psychological, actually being a living reality in the world, and the concept of synchronicity, that events can be meaningfully and acausally connected, then we can postulate that Reeva met her inner demon in the person of Oscar Pistorius. To be clear, the suggestion here is not that Oscar Pistorius is necessarily of demonic character, but very clearly he acted out the role of Reeva’s inner demon in the world.
To conclude if we accept this hypothesis it does not transfer the blame for the incident onto Reeva or displace the responsibility Oscar bears in this shooting. What it does though is shows that at some level of interpretation, admittedly a level which transcends the one the legal system is concerned with, Oscar and Reeva were acting out, were players if you will, in a mythological drama that lived in Reeva’s soul long, long, before it became a lived reality in the world.
My thanks to Alexia Athalie Figgins for drawing my attention to these pictures and June Steenkamp’s interpretation of them.
 June Steenkamp.
 Jung, C. G. The Development of Personality, Collected Works, vol. 17, par. 210
 Jung. C. G. The archetypes and the collective unconscious, Collected Works, vol. 9, part 1, par3.
 Jung, C. G. The structure and dynamics of the psyche, Collected Works, vol. 8, par. 841
 Jung, C. G. The structure and dynamics of the psyche, Collected Works, vol. 8. Par. 843
 naturally not in the classical catholic sense but simply in the media and popular culture; whatever fame she realised in life quite clearly this has been eclipsed in death. She has become ”an angel”.